One of the most notable and drastic changes that will be implemented in the great Regime Transition of 2012 is the defensive shift. Not only with the defense likely become much more of a focus under new head coach Chuck Pagano, but the scheme and philosophies of the defense will be drastically different.
Under Bill Polian and Tony Dungy (and his successor, Jim Caldwell), the Colts ran a Tampa-2 defense, a Cover-2, 4-3 base defense. This defense was designed to value speed and sound tackling, and is known as the “conservative” defense. The two deep safeties were designed to prevent the big play, and the reliance on the speed rush by the defensive ends allowed the defense to conserve leads built by the explosive, Manning-led offense.
New head coach Chuck Pagano brings a completely different philosophy from Baltimore, where the 3-4 defense and chaotic, unpredictable schemes rule the day. This drastic change has brought up some very critical questions in transitioning, mainly concerning the players that will make the transition effectively.
So, what is the difference between the Colts defense of 2011, and the Pagano-era Colts defense? Well, to start, check out the types of defenses the Colts put out in 2011, versus the schemes that Pagano’s Ravens ran (via ProFootballFocus):
While most have realized that the Ravens ran a hybrid 3-4/4-3 last season, it’s astounding that they used four down linemen 58% of the time. Of course, when compared to the Colts, who were in a 4-down set for over 97% of the time, this doesn’t seem like much. However, for a team who has been known for its base 3-4 defense, this use of four linemen is good news for the Colts.
Coach Pagano knows how to use four linemen, which should prove beneficial for players like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Drake Nevis, all players who have had questions about their place in a 3-4. But, with Pagano’s experience in using four linemen, he should be able to translate that to being able to use these talented players in beneficial way. Contrastingly, Pagano brings a knowledge of the 3-4 that hasn’t been seen in Indy in years, which should be a good fit for players like Fili Moala, Jerry Hughes, Cory Redding, and Brandon McKinney. The knowledge of different schemes (and the ability to use them) is one that fueled the unpredictable nature of the Baltimore defense, leaving the offense confused and guessing.
Another positive point on the defense is Coach Pagano’s willingness to commit to stopping the pass. One of the most disturbing pieces of rhetoric to come out of the Colts’ facilities has been the mantra of “stopping the run and running the ball.” While there is innumerous evidence of the folly of that statement, it doesn’t keep people from believing it.
However, Pagano had more than the base of four defensive backs 54% of the time last season, showing a willingness to, at the very least, use extra defensive backs to put a premium on stopping the pass.
So, how will this affect the Colts’ decisions on players? Well, like I said, it should put off the notion of certain players fitting the system, especially on the defensive line. The Colts need talent on the DL, and the coaches should be able to figure out how to use that with their schemes. They don’t need a true nose tackle right away, and reaching for one (whether it be by overpaying a free agent or reaching in the draft) isn’t necessary.
The Colts definitely need talent at the DT spots, but should have enough to hold the fort down while the front office looks for true long term solutions. The Colts arguably second biggest need is cornerback, where they absolutely need to grab some viable bodies in the NFL draft. The Colts have Jerraud Powers who will likely start the season as one starter, and then they have three developmental players in Rucker, Thomas, and Johnson. A safety is also necessary, but there isn’t much available out there.
Overall, the Colts just need talent on the defense, and if Pagano is who we are all hoping he’ll be, then he’ll make it work.